Every Saint Has a Story

Hebrews 12:1-2

An old Jewish rabbi once said, “God made man because He loves stories.” Your life crosses with God’s love, and it has a story to tell. Your life’s story, which places faith in Jesus Christ, becomes a God story. Hebrews 12 talks about the Christian journey as a race run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, and the need to persevere in life. But it also speaks of Jesus as the author of our faith. You are God’s saint. With the Holy Spirit living within, you, by faith, have a story to tell.

This is a God story from years ago.

It was 1945. World War II had drawn to a close and a young German soldier sat broken inside a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. He had been a reluctant soldier in Hitler’s army, and here inside a prison, he had months to contemplate what had been and what was to come. The cities of his homeland were now reduced to rubble, the people impoverished. His sleep was haunted by nightmares of the terrors of warfare.

Then, in his prison barracks, someone put up pictures of the reality of the concentration camps in Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, and the truth filtered into his awareness. He saw faces of Nazi victims. Was this what he had fought for? Has my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so the concentration murderers could go on killing and Hitler could live a few months longer?

Because of his depression, his awareness of wartime destruction, and his continued captivity, this soldier lived in a dark cloud of shame and disgrace. That was the hardest thing – dark despair, which had a stranglehold on him and choked him.

A visiting chaplain gave this young German soldier a Bible, and with little else to do, he began reading it. In the lament Psalms, he heard resonant voices, the agony of people who felt God had abandoned them. In the story of Christ crucified, he encountered a God who knew what it was to experience suffering, abandonment, and shame. Feeling utterly forsaken himself, the German soldier found a friend in the One who from the cross had cried,

“My God my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46).

Then in 1947, he was permitted to attend a Christian conference that brought together young people from across the world. The Dutch participants asked to meet with German POWs who had fought in the Netherlands. This young soldier was one of them. He went to the meeting full of fear, guilt, and shame. His feelings intensified as the Dutch Christians spoke of the pain Hitler and his allies had inflicted, of the dread the Gestapo had bred into their hearts, and of the family and friends they’d lost in the disruption and damage to their communities.

Yet the Dutch Christians didn’t speak out of a spirit of vindictiveness but came to offer forgiveness. It was completely unexpected. They embodied the love the German soldier had read about in the story of Christ, and it turned his life upside down. He discovered that, despite all that had passed, God looks on us with shining eyes of His eternal joy, and there is hope for the future.

The young German soldier was Jürgen Moltmann who would go on to become one of the greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century. Years later, with the message of the loving crucified God still indelibly printed on his heart, he penned these beautiful words: “The ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for, or wait for. The ultimate reason is we are wanted and wished for and waited for.”

What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Someone is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. As the father waited for the prodigal son to return, so our heavenly Father waits for us. As a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them, so we are accepted and received. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.

You have a story to tell. Every saint has a story to tell. The story is retold eighty-seven times in the Old Testament.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
And I will remember my covenant promise.”

Everyone is retelling the stories of the redeemed – the ten plagues, the Exodus, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of fire and cloud, the supernatural food of manna and the entrance into the Promised Land.

The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus’ miracles and His power to free a demoniac from evil spirits, heal a woman with twelve years’ hemorrhage, raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, heal a man whose four friends dug a hole in the roof to lower him to Jesus, and give blind people their sight. People are amazed at what Jesus has done in their lives. They tell others about Him. There is no one like Jesus.

Oscar was my father. He was a farm boy raised in the fields of Park River, North Dakota and went to college at North Dakota State to play football for the Bison. As a sophomore, he was a starter when the team played Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the number one team in the nation.

But then my father had a conversion and decided to leave a life wandering in his own choices to fix his eyes on Jesus and run the race of faith. God’s Spirit led him to Augsburg College, then to Luther seminary and a life of serving as a pastor. All my life as a boy growing up, I listened to him preach the gospel of Jesus. I also heard his heart pray at our dinner table during family devotions. His faith story ignited my faith story. This is how it works.

You also have a faith story, a “before-Christ” and an “after-coming-to-faith-in-Christ” life. I find we are either a prodigal son who runs away from God the Father as if there is no god to find where demons dwell, or we’re like the older brother who stays at home and does all the right things but never realizes the love the father has for him.

How long has it been since you first believed? When did your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord come alive? Hebrews 12:2 says,

“Jesus is the author . . . of our (stories of) faith.”

Many of us were baptized as infants and grew up trusting Christ. For others, faith came alive later in life and baptism was a public profession of the faith God had given. I remember Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saying, “When did I trust Jesus? You might as well ask when I first loved my parents. I do not remember ever not loving Jesus.”

So even if our faith story is one from our earliest memories of trusting Christ, yet people who are in our life experiences give depth and color to our faith journey. It is essential for us to be willing to share our God story with others.

Why might we be reluctant to share our love for Jesus with others? Revelation chapter 2 has a bold word of the orthodox church that did many good things. But a telling verse is found in Revelation 2:4:

“This I have against you, you have left your first love.”

You have lost your first love.

If you have fallen far from God’s presence, who is to blame? A person once wrote,

“God is like a pigeon in the park. I leisurely throw crumbs of leftover devotion when I feel like it. I’ve not only lost my first love, but I’ve also lost my joy. God uses my joylessness to snap me out of treating Him like a hobby to whom I give time if I feel like it. I create premeditated alibis to rationalize why I’m too busy to trust God, pray to Him, walk with Him, or worship Him in a way that would cultivate intimacy.”

Have you lost your first love? Do you remember this verse from the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me”?

♬ I love Jesus, does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say
that I love Him every day. ♪

If you have lost your first love, I have three words to help rekindle the faith and hope within your heart and your passion for Jesus.

First, REMEMBER whose you are – a child of God! Jesus has made you in His own likeness. I implore you to seek God’s face like a farmer would chase the harvest, like a hunter would pursue a deer, like a lover longing to connect. Remember what Jesus has done for you.

“There is nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25b).

The second word is REPENT. Change your mind. Reorient the whole of your life to allow space for God’s Spirit in the center of your being. Reorder your priorities so Jesus becomes the central heartbeat of life. When we drift out of touch with the Lord, we leave paradise for the wilderness. Beg for God’s mercy for your ambivalence. As it says in Hebrews 12:2,

“Throw off sin. Get rid of every encumbrance. Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

The third word is RETURN. He is waiting for you in love. Come home to the fresh fire of His love. Dive into the fountain of grace. Drink deeply of His love, which has never stopped flowing.

“In the name of Jesus, we boldly come to the throne of grace
and receive mercy and help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This, too, becomes part of your faith story. Fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Why is it important to share our God stories?

I have visited prisons in Iowa several times. I have found that even if I tell the story of Christ as eloquently as I know, the impact is much greater when it comes from a former prisoner who returns to share his faith story. When those men hear the story of a former prisoner who now has a good job, is married, has a family, is living clean of drugs and booze, is worshiping the Lord week by week, and is experiencing the power of transformation, it creates renewed hope in those prisoners. If God can change that man and resurrect him to a new beginning, maybe He can hear my prayer. Maybe God’s Spirit can raise me up and transform my life to give me a new beginning.

I have seen . . .
• Jesus’ love set people free from their addictions and give them new habits and new hope.
• Jesus’ grace and love give hope to people who have recently gone through a painful divorce, then realize that, in the forgiveness of Christ, life is not over, and God can open up a new future.
• The love of Jesus heal the deep grief of someone who has laid to rest a precious loved one.
• The love of Jesus give courage and strength to people who are seeking to persevere in trouble and come through on the other side.
• The grace and forgiveness of Jesus call a rogue, immoral man out of his life of sin. He who sat belly up to the bar night after night, whose marriage and family were falling apart and was in danger of losing his job, said to me, “I have always believed but now I have repented of my sins. I have asked Jesus to be in the center of life. His grace has changed me. I have surrendered.”

Telling our story produces three powerful impacts.
1. It deepens our connection with Christ and affirms the faith we confess.
2. It reveals the character of God – how the power of God works in people’s lives.
3. The Spirit uses it to ignite faith in the hearts of those who hear it.

Can I get a witness? What is your God story? Dare you believe that if you share it with others, God can help them fall in love with Christ too? We have a story to tell because Christ is the hope of the world. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg